If there is one thing that will improve your performance as a leader in 2014, it’s becoming a better listener.
What do I mean by becoming a better listener? I mean listening to understand rather than listening to respond.
This is hard, because it requires you to slow down, and we all hate wasting time. But by slowing down just a little and taking the time to really listen to what the other person is saying, you will inevitably save time by gaining insight, avoiding misunderstandings, enhancing relationships and making better decisions.
In their excellent book, Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader, Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan offer six tips on becoming a better listener:
- Listen as if you’re hearing what the speaker is saying for the first time
- Listen with the intent to summarise the essence of the speaker’s statements [and summarise at the appropriate time to demonstrate you have understood what has been said]
- If you don’t understand something the speaker says, ask them to clarify what they mean
- Don’t interrupt the speaker
- When the speaker says something with which you disagree, don’t disagree in the moment. Instead hear the speaker out. Ask for more details. Or say, “I’m not sure I see it that way, but I’d like to hear more about it”
- When tempted to offer descriptions of your thoughts, position or views, first ask yourself if you have full comprehension of the other person’s thoughts, position and views
Communicating is more than listening to words. Peter Drucker said that the most important thing about communication “is hearing what isn’t said”. Look at the facial expressions. Listen to the tone and pitch of the voice. Observe the body language. These non-verbal cues will often tell you more than the words do.
Becoming a good listener is hard. It’s like mastering any challenging task (think golf, tennis, and piano). You need to focus and practice to stay on top of your listening game.
So next time you’re “listening” try and reflect and ask yourself three questions:
- Am I really listening to what they are saying here? (or just thinking about what I’m going to say next or what I’m doing tonight)
- Do I completely understand where they are coming from?
- Is there anything I need to explore further?
When you think you have mastered the art, ask your partner, children or close friends the question, “Am I a good listener?” The answer will in all likelihood bring you back to earth.